Now Hear This: an interview with Katie Wolber

Katie Wolber, French horn player with the Dallas Opera, joins DSO horn Haley Hoops and six other woodwind musicians for “Passing the Torch” – our Bancroft Family Concert at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Horchow Auditorium on January 28. Doors open at 2:30 for the 3:00 concert. As always, the concert is free. The program features woodwind octets by Haydn and Mozart.

wolber-katie-2016A devastating crash, an amazing recovery

In May 2011, Katie and her husband Kurt were in a horrific car accident. Traveling on I-35, they were hit head-on by a driver with Alzheimer’s driving the wrong way on the highway at full speed. Their car spun and was struck again by another driver. Their sedan came to stop facing the wrong way on the highway. Kurt sustained a badly broken left hand that required surgery and lives with metal plates and screws in his hand. He had burns on his right hand and arm, a puncture wound to his chest, and a neck injury.

Katie’s injuries were much more severe. She had multiple fractures to her pelvis, vertebrae, rib, ankle, both arms, and at the base of her skull. Katie also had damage to her shoulder, lungs, neck ligaments, a dislocated kneecap, and many injuries to her mouth and face. Her worst injury was a near-fatal lacerated liver. Most people would not have survived the accident. In fact, the ICU nurses told Katie they thought it was a mistake on her file that she had not been brought in on life support.

Haley, Katie at hospital

After a visit from Haley Hoops, where they talked about her car’s safety features, the Wolbers bought the same model vehicle which Katie still drives today!

Despite all that trauma, Katie and Kurt remain thankful and feel like they have “won the life lottery.” Doctors originally told Kurt that Katie would never walk again, then changed the diagnosis to six months until she could walk. However, Katie walked in 8 weeks. Multiple surgeries, physical therapy, and another health scare followed, but 2015 marked the first calendar year with no surgeries for Katie. She credits the safety features of their vehicle, their healthy lifestyle and fitness levels before the accident, and divine providence for their survival and healing.

 Katie, thank you for sharing about your accident. Needless to say, we are so glad you are on stage and able to play! You had to take seven months off from playing the horn. What was it like to pick up the instrument again and play for the first time? I tried to play too soon – just four months after the wreck. My face hadn’t healed enough and I couldn’t play properly. It was like one side of my face wouldn’t work and kept collapsing. I was extremely frustrated, but I didn’t want to compensate for the left side of my face and form bad habits, so I put it down and tried again three months later in January of 2012.

I had a lot of injuries to my face, along with a fake tooth that doesn’t feel quite the same as my original. Things felt weird at first, but within minutes of picking it back up in January 2012 I had adjusted and felt used to it. Everything felt normal, and I had no physical problems. It was a HUGE relief. I honestly think that if I were a string player, I probably would have quit playing altogether. My right shoulder strains to bring my arm across the body, and playing would be unbearable.

What was practice like at first? I started out slow and easy to make sure nothing felt strange, but quickly realized that everything felt just as it did before the accident. The first week or so I only practiced basics like long tones and scales. I decided that since it felt normal, the best thing to do would be to jump back into playing – full speed ahead! The symphonies and the contractors in the area knew I wasn’t able to play (and many thought that I never would play again, from what I’ve been told), and I wanted everyone to know that I was back and as good as new. One of the ways I did that was to audition for two summer festivals. I made tapes for them a few weeks after picking up the horn again. I was accepted by both and attended both – the Sarasota Chamber Music Festival, and the Youth Orchestra of the Americas where I was the primary principal player on a six-week tour in Chile.

Within two weeks I had enough endurance to play for a concert. I asked my main teacher from SMU Greg Hustis, the former principal horn of the DSO, if I could come play for him. He couldn’t believe how I sounded – like nothing had happened. It was one of the most exhilarating lessons of my life. I played with the Dallas Symphony in March, and went on their European Tour in 2013. It was unbelievable and I was incredibly happy.

How long did it take to get back to the level you were at before the accident? I think three weeks, tops. That’s when I had my lesson with Greg Hustis. I still have my audition tapes I recorded from then if you’d like to hear them!

Did returning to the horn feel like a burden or a release? It was definitely a release! I had been teaching private horn lessons in public schools and continued to do so for another year after the accident, but playing is my passion. I wanted nothing more than to be back in the saddle performing around town.

For “Passing the Torch” four DSO musicians partner with four of their protégés. You, in this scenario, are one of the protégés. How does it feel to play alongside these mentors? When I was a student at SMU, my friends and I always revered our teachers and the musicians of the DSO. They were examples of what we wanted to become, and they set the bar high. I’ll never forget the first time I had the opportunity to perform with the symphony – I was incredibly nervous and felt so lucky. It is still an honor to play alongside them today.

What piece on the program are you most excited about? I would have to choose the Mozart Octet. One of Mozart’s great friends was a hornist named Joseph Leutgeb, so I’m sure he had him in mind when he wrote the piece. And, who doesn’t love Mozart?

What’s the most challenging thing about being a professional musician? For me, personally, it’s the schedule. Musicians typically work nights and weekends, and our schedules are somewhat irregular. My husband, on the other hand, is an attorney who works a more traditional schedule. As a result, it can be tough to coordinate our schedules at times.

Do you have a particularly memorable performance or recital you could tell us about? I would have to say playing Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in the Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam. I had been invited to play with the DSO on their European Tour in 2013, which was an unforgettable experience. Not many musicians get the opportunity to play such a fantastic piece in one of the most famous concert halls in the world. The performance was also live-streamed online, so my friends and family were able to watch back home.

How old were you when you started playing the french horn? Why did you choose the horn? My parents tried to start me when I was in second grade, so I was about 7 years old. Unfortunately, I was too short for it and couldn’t reach the mouthpiece while resting the bell on my leg. My dad held the bell for me and taught me to play a C scale and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Obviously that was not a good long-term solution, so we put the horn away and I picked it back up two years later. My parents are band directors and basically told me I would play the horn. I didn’t want to have the same instrument as anyone else in the family, and I always liked the look of it when I would see miniature versions as Christmas tree ornaments.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid? I listened to whatever my parents had on – mostly classical and jazz.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? To listen to, definitely Strauss – he has some great horn parts! To play, I think Mahler – his music is just so powerful and fun to play in the orchestra.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? This is a question I’ve never been asked! I’d have to say that right now I enjoy hearing the sound of my horse’s lips smacking together as he reaches for a treat – it’s just too funny. I recently took up horseback riding and I make sure my horse is good and spoiled! My least favorite sound? Probably the sound of one of my dogs getting sick in the middle of the night.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Louis Armstrong!


CAUTION Street closedDue to the Chinese New Year Festival at Crow Collection of Asian Art on January 28, HARWOOD STREET will be closed from Woodall Rodgers to Ross Avenue, and FLORA STREET will be closed from Harwood to Pearl Street during our next Bancroft Family Concert, “Passing the Torch,” at the Dallas Museum of Art.

We suggest you leave yourself AMPLE TIME to arrive and find parking. Consider taking the DART train to the St. Paul station and walk north a few blocks to the DMA. This Dallas Arts District map can help you find parking locations if the DMA parking garage is full.

As always, the concert begins at 3 p.m., and doors to the Horchow Auditorium open at 2:30. See you there!

Dallas Arts District Foundation supports FACP for over 20 years

dalartsWe are honored to be awarded a grant from Dallas Arts District Foundation for our free concerts performed in the heart of Dallas. Fine Arts Chamber Players is grateful for our decades-long relationship with the Foundation, and appreciates their continued support of our Bancroft Family Concert series and our Beethoven Basically Festival.

The Foundation’s work to make the Arts District available for everyone goes hand-in-hand with FACP’s free classical music offerings in the Dallas Museum of Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. Learn more about the Foundation here.

Congratulations to the other grant awardees:

Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico

Bruce Wood Dance Project

Color Me Empowered

Crow Collection of Asian Art

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture

Dallas Symphony Association

Junior Players Guild

Lone Star Wind Orchestra

Shakespeare Dallas

Bishop Arts Theatre Center

The Black Academy of Arts and Letters

The Dallas Opera

Teacher Profile: Karen Gerardo, violin

Karen Gerardo is in her second year as a violin teacher with FACP at Peak Preparatory. She teaches the fourth grade class, and a combination class with sixth and seventh graders. Outside of FACP, Ms. Gerardo regularly performs with Mariachi Rosas Divinas,  an all-female mariachi group. A freelance musician, she is also principal master with the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Irving. And, she teaches the afterschool orchestra program at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary school in DISD.

gerardo-karen-2016What is your violin background? I’m very much rooted in Dallas. I graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I was also part of the Young Strings program [a Dallas Symphony Orchestra music education program] through my middle school and high school years. I began my mariachi career by joining Mariachi Rosas Divinas in 2006. I’m currently working on my bachelor’s degree in music.

How old were you when you started playing violin? Do you play other instruments? I started playing violin when I was 6 years old in first grade. I play a little bit of viola and it’s been years since I have played piano. My piano skills are at a beginner level, so it’s more for fun. 

Who is your favorite composer to play? That’s extremely hard to answer! I love many composers for different reasons. It also depends on the genre of music and what mood I’m in. Right now my top three for classical music would be Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and Shostakovich.

What do you love about teaching young violin students? I love the excitement and satisfaction they get when they accomplish a skill or song that they had been working on. 

Have you taught other ages? Yes, I worked privately with middle school and high school students and directed the mariachi at BTWHSPVA.

What is a particularly memorable recital or performance of yours? That’s also hard to pick! I have to pick the year were the mariachi performed with the Grammy award-winning band Ozomatli at the Palladium Ballroom for Red Bull Battle of the Bands. I had the honor to perform the guitar riff at the beginning of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” with an electric violin. Let’s just say the crowd went wild 

What piece of advice would you give 11-year-old Karen? At that time, I was involved with ballet and enjoyed it more than orchestra. So if I could go back in time I would tell myself to get exposed to as much music as possible and to take every opportunity to perform. And, have patience when things are tough!

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? A baby’s laughter just makes me smile every time! My least favorite sound is plastic utensils rubbing against each other. I know it’s weird, but it puts me on edge!

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? That’s so hard to answer! Let’s see… Christian Ferras playing the second movement of the Sibelius violin concertoHumoresque by Alex de Taeye played by Itzhak Perlman, and the festive overture by Shostakovich to name a few.

Fine Arts Chamber Players